SCIENCE MATTERS: Connecting the dots from Ontario to Rio

Ontario’s endangered wildlife dodged a bullet recently.

Ontario’s endangered wildlife dodged a bullet (and a bulldozer) recently, when the provincial government reversed its decision to gut the province’s world-class Endangered Species Act with a raft of amendments stuffed into a controversial omnibus budget bill.

Legal experts, former politicians, and environmentalists, including me, had expressed concern about Bill 55’s damaging revisions to several environmental laws in the province, most notably the Endangered Species Act. The changes would have undermined public management of cherished forests, lakes, and rivers, as well as protection of some of the most vulnerable species in Canada. Many of those plants and animals are clinging to survival, including woodland caribou.

More than 50 labour, health, and environmental groups submitted a joint letter to the government in defence of the act. They were joined by thousands of Ontario residents who wrote Premier Dalton McGuinty, urging him to change his mind.

Thankfully, he listened.

At the 11th hour, government voted to remove amendments from Bill 55 that would have eviscerated the act.

While Ontario’s environmental laws remain vulnerable to politics, I’m relieved legislators were able to come together to maintain strong legal protection for the diversity of nature and life that provides us with immeasurable benefits.

With their vote of confidence for the act, politicians in Ontario helped sustain one of the few outcomes of an important global environmental agreement, the Convention on Biological Diversity. Its 20th anniversary was celebrated in June at Rio+20, more formally known as the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Develop-ment, a major international gathering in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Two decades ago, the Convention on Biological Diversity, along with two other important international agreements (the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and Agenda 21, which eventually spawned the UN Convention to Combat Desertification), were signed by more than 170 nations in May 1992.

Commonly referred to as the Earth Summit, the first Rio conference attempted to establish a strong global mandate for collective action to safeguard the Earth’s biodiversity and climate.

Though the agreements lacked any real teeth, they established international processes for monitoring biodiversity decline, creating new parks and protected areas, and catalyzing domestic policy developments, including the adoption of laws for protection and recovery of species threatened with extinction.

Canada was the first industrialized nation to ratify the Convention on Bio-logical Diversity. Soon after, the federal government entered into an agreement with the provinces called the National Accord for the Protection of Species at Risk. Endangered Species Act in Ontario, while world leaders met again to try to save the biosphere, would have set a horrible precedent for global protection of biodiversity and would have solidified Canada’s growing reputation as an international laggard.

The first Rio Earth Summit was marked by grandiose rhetoric and commitments by politicians who ultimately failed to deliver on their promises. Twenty years later, the world confronts a biosphere even more damaged by millions of acres of destroyed forests, two billion more people, and atmospheric carbon concentrations nearing tipping-point levels.

There’s a lesson from the successful fight to save environmental laws in Ontario: The public must remain vigilant and continue to compel our politicians to act if we are to have any hope of stemming the biodiversity crisis here at home and across the planet.

The government of Ontario listened to public concerns. I remain hopeful the province’s political leaders will keep the ESA intact. Legal protection of wildlife and its vulnerable habitat has never been more critical.

Just Posted

District of Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain, left, and Snaw-Naw-As Chief Gordon Edwards sign a memorandum of understanding outside Snaw-Naw-As Market on Friday, June 18. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Lantzville and Snaw-Naw-As sign memorandum of understanding

District and First Nation create joint working group

Things are looking up for Vancouver Island as zero COVID-19 cases have been reported for the first time since October. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Island records zero new COVID-19 cases for the first time since October

For the first time since October, the province is reporting zero new… Continue reading

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Tilray announces new line of products offering more inexpensive choices for medical cannabis users. (News Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo-based Tilray launches new medical cannabis product line

Symbios brand products offered at ‘better price point’ for medical cannabis products

Freighters have becomd abundant in the Trincomali Channel on the east side of Thetis Island.
Nanaimo ponders taking on waste from nearby anchored freighters

Vancouver-based Tymac petitioning the Regional District of Nanaimo to accept waste at its landfill

A small pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins pass by close to shore in Campbell River June 16, 2021. Still capture from video courtesy of Kimberly Hart
VIDEO: Dolphin sunset captured from Vancouver Island shore

Spectacular setting for view of travelling pod of Pacific white-sided dolphins

Janice Coady, left, Aimee Chalifoux and Linda Milford at a vigil for Amy Watts on Wednesday, June 16, outside Nanaimo city hall. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
‘We need to do better,’ says mother of woman killed in Nanaimo

Vigil held for former outreach worker Amy Watts, whose body was found downtown June 3

The B.C. Ministry of Education has announced close to $44 million for the province’s schools for COVID-19 recovery. (News Bulletin file)
Nanaimo-Ladysmith school stakeholders say COVID-19 recovery funding can make a difference

B.C. Ministry of Education announces it expects a ‘near-normal’ return to class in September

Regional District of Nanaimo is looking to repair sewage pipe in the Hammond Bay Road area, which was corroded by gas. (Black Press file)
Corroded sewer pipe along Nanaimo’s Hammond Bay Road will cost $5.5 million to fix

Pipe replacement and reinforcement part of $6.9-million infrastructure project

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding parnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Karl and Stephanie Ann Johanson were thrilled to spot a pair of Sandhill Cranes in the Panama Flats this month, an unusual appearance for such birds. (Photo by Stephanie Ann Johanson)
WATCH: Sandhill cranes an unusual, joyful sight in South Island parkland

These birds don’t often touch down on their way between northern B.C. and Mexico

Police are asking for public assistance in locating Anthony Graham who has been charged with the murders of Kamloops brothers Carlo and Erick Fryer. (RCMP photo)
2 charged, suspect at large in killings of B.C. brothers linked to gang activity: RCMP

Kamloops brothers Erick and Carlo Fryer were found deceased in May on a remote Okanagan road

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil an opening sign after speaking about the Open for Summer Plan and next steps in the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, in Edmonton, Friday, June 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta 1st province in Canada to lift all COVID-19 public health restrictions

70.2% of eligible citizens 12 and older in the province have received a dose of the vaccine

Fraser Health registered nurse Ramn Manan draws a dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at a walk-up vaccination clinic at Bear Creek Park, in Surrey, B.C., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Honour our fathers’ with COVID-19 vaccine protection, B.C. urges

109 new cases Friday, 75 per cent of 12 and up immunized

Most Read